From THE MET: "In 1856, a seventeen-year-old girl from Rhode Island embarked on a unique and brilliant quiltmaking project. The girl’s name was Adeline Harris and her project was to make a quilt incorporating hundreds of celebrity autographs. While signature quilts were nothing new, the contributions were typically sourced from within a small community, such as a church, and functioned to commemorate a single event, such as a birth or marriage — Adeline, however, had bigger ideas, her community as the notable figures of her day, her event the phenomenon of nineteenth-century celebrity.
"Although one might imagine Adeline dutifully lugging a quilt to all corners of the globe for the famous to adorn with their scrawl, her process was much more ingenious (and practical). She sent a small diamond of white silk in the post with an explanation of her project and a request that they send it back to her signed. The returned and now autographed fragments were then worked into the quilt as the “top” planes in a wonderful trompe l’oeil tumbling block design.
The response she got to her unusual request was nothing short of phenomenal — she ended up incorporating 360 signed pieces in total, including those from such luminaries as Jacob Grimm, Alexander von Humboldt, Charles Dickens, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and Abraham Lincoln (one of eight American presidents represented). According to her grand-daughter the Lincoln signature was, due to a family connection, actually acquired in person, and Adeline was meant to have even danced with Lincoln at his inauguration ball. Many of the pieces included a short message in addition to the signature.
"As for the process, it can be seen that first she stitched the individual diamonds into blocks, then connected the blocks into columns, and finally seamed the columns together across the entire width. In total, she cut and stitched 1,840 individual silk pieces to create the quilt . . . and used more than one hundred and fifty different silk fabrics.
Today, the autographs displayed in this beautiful and immaculately constructed quilt provide an intriguing glimpse into the way an educated young woman of the mid-nineteenth century viewed her world."
Adeline Harris, around the time she began the quilt. Adeline was the daughter of a prosperous mill owner, and in 1866, shortly after completing the quilt, married Yale graduate Lorenzo Sears (1838-1916) who taught at the University of Vermont in the 1880s before becoming a Professor at Brown University.
Young Adeline was extremely ambitious. Maybe her story will inspire a modern-day Autographs Quilt. Several years ago, the mother-of-the-bride asked me to gather guest's signatures on quilt squares during the wedding reception. It was a wonderful way to meet all of the guests. Many guests shared a verse or a favorite quote on their square. Some thought of something to write while I waited and others needed some time to think of a special message. While the newlyweds honeymooned, mom pieced the signed squares and created a lovely keepsake for the bride and groom.
Have you created an autograph, or signature quilt?
What a nice story. Adelines quilt of signatures is wonderful. I'm making a EPP 60degree diamond travel quilt, so my travels in our motor home are recorded onto a White surrounding diamond and I make up the complete star at every new place we spend a night! I've been making the stars for a few years now! Not sure when to stop and call it a day? 7/27/2019 Sarah
What a wonderful reminder of your travels that will be, Sarah. I've read blogs where quilters collect fabric from every place they've vacationed then created a travel quilt. I recently found a cute pattern with book squares and thought to embroider the names of my favorite books on the spines - combining quilting and embroidery may be a fun challenge.